U.S. Rep. Ann Wagner clearly wants her St. Louis County constituents to believe she’s fighting the good fight in Washington against bureaucrats run amok. The last thing she wants is for voters to know how deeply she is in the pockets of payday lenders and big banking interests. They are fighting to eliminate the one federal watchdog agency that prevents banks from resuming the bad practices that caused the 2008 economic meltdown.
Wagner, R-Ballwin, is leading a fierce campaign to oust Richard Cordray, head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The bureau has done valuable work, returning $11.8 billion to 29 million people since it was created in 2011 as a centerpiece of the Dodd-Frank Act, enacted in the wake of the global financial crisis.
The watchdog agency was designed to be independent of the president, who can remove the director only for cause, such as “inefficiency, neglect of duty, and malfeasance.” Cordray’s term expires in mid-2018, so why wage war against him now?
One answer is that President Donald Trump and the financial industry want to gain control of his agency. Republican lawmakers who opposed the bureau’s creation complain that the CFPB has been overzealous in pursuit of financial wrongdoers.
Wagner earlier waged war against Obama administration fiduciary rules that require financial advisers “to put their clients’ best interests before their own profits.”
As chairwoman of the Financial Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, Wagner is in a desperate search for the “cause” that will allow Trump to fire Cordray. She has given weight to allegations of gender, racial and age discrimination among bureau employees in a thinly veiled attempt to lay responsibility at Cordray’s feet. That’s a reach.
Her constituents shouldn’t be fooled into believing Wagner’s actions are motivated by conservative zeal to streamline government. She is among the top recipients of campaign donations from the financial services industry, whose funding accounted for more than a fifth of the money for her campaign and leadership political action committees collected in 2013. In the last election, they reportedly pumped $360,000 into her campaign coffers.
Those connections gave her clout as a freshman in Congress, where she secured a coveted seat on the Financial Services Committee — coveted because committee members pull in more money, more easily, from political action committees than members of any other House committee.
Consumers shouldn’t buy the tired and unsubstantiated argument that regulation works against them. The CFPB helps protect average citizens who keep their money in banks and credit unions, use credit cards and take out mortgages or loans to buy houses or pay for their kids to go to college.
Wagner’s efforts to hobble the agency are shameful. We wouldn’t be surprised if her big donors wear swamp boots whenever they wade into her office.